Eat the Best Pizza in Houston

Eat the Best Pizza in Houston (13)EXPAND
Photo by Erika Kwee

If anyone thought judging the best doughnut in Houston was hard, he or she would be sorely mistaken. Attempting to uncover the best pizza in Houston was a monstrous task to tackle when considering the vast pizza landscape in conjunction with the wide, wide range of opinions held by the judging panel.

However, on one fateful Saturday, ten pizza lovers assembled to do a side-by-side taste test of 24 pizzas from inside the Loop to crown the best New York-style and best Neapolitan pizzas in Houston. There were many surprises for the judging panel after the scores were aggregated, so take these results as more of a baseline than a be-all, end-all of Houston pizza judgment.

Consider: Are you a lover of crunchy crust? A doughy-based, sauce-laden aficionado? A spare-sauced, heavy-cheese fan? Read on for guidelines to help you find your ideal pizza nirvana amid the lively Houston pizza scene.

Eat the Best Pizza in Houston (15)EXPAND
Photo by Erika Kwee

Methodology

Pizzas were selected according to personal nominations, Yelp ratings and online research. Only places that seemed like promising candidates for the title of "Best Pizza in Houston" were selected (with some neighborhood-favorite joints as a control). One glaring omission from the list of contenders is the newly opened Pi Pizza — the shop had been so slammed by the grand opening the day before that it had run out of ingredients and wasn't opening until 4 p.m. the day of our tasting.

Ultimately, 24 pizzas were judged, with 12 Neapolitan pizzas and 12 New York-style pizzas (categorized based on each shop's self-defined label). Slices of each pizza were reheated for five minutes in a 475-degree oven before tasting (reheating was a key issue that will be addressed later in the article).

Scoring

New York-style pizzas were judged based on plain cheese pizzas. An ideal New York-style pizza is characterized by a crisp yet pliable crust: sturdy on the bottom, chewy and tender in the middle, and slick and nearly doughy on top. It should be topped with a light layer of tomato sauce and an even layer of mozzarella cheese, and it should stand up to being folded with a slightly raised crust cooked to an even golden brown. It is typically cooked in a coal or gas oven. 

Neapolitan pizzas were based on each shop's margherita offering (the most popular Neapolitan style). An ideal Neapolitan pizza is characterized by a charred, puffy crust with a moist, poofy, chewy interior and a scant amount of toppings (dabs of cheese rather than an even layer) on a thin, non-stiff crust. It is typically cooked in a wood-fired oven at a scorching temperature for a very short period of time.

Each pizza was rated in a blind taste test on a scale of 1-5 for crust, sauce and cheese. Each pizza also received an overall rating on a scale of 1-10. 

Results: New-York Style

Least popular: Pepperoni's, Romano's, Brother's Pizzeria, Luigi's

Pepperoni's is a solid option for starving college students.EXPAND
Pepperoni's is a solid option for starving college students.
Photo by Erika Kwee

Pepperoni's was my personal least favorite pizza: The crust housed smears of generic tomato sauce and a topping of waxy, blistered cheese. A comment by one taster that it was "college pizza" seems the most accurate way to describe it.

A popular neighborhood joint, Romano's presents serviceable but not great pizza with a cardboard-like crust.EXPAND
A popular neighborhood joint, Romano's presents serviceable but not great pizza with a cardboard-like crust.
Photo by Erika Kwee

Romano's crust bore the strongest resemblance to cardboard, but not entirely in a bad way: It had an almost machine-like evenness with consistent air bubbling. While it lacked the textural contrast and flavor crucial to a great New York slice, the bottom retained a nice crunch, and there was an airy lightness to the crust. The almost flavorless crust was balanced by a similarly even layer of strong-tasting cheese.

Love doughy crust? Head to Brother's for an indulgently carby, greasy slice.EXPAND
Love doughy crust? Head to Brother's for an indulgently carby, greasy slice.
Photo by Erika Kwee

Brother's Pizzeria had one of the doughiest crusts with a thick layer of cheese. Though the crust had a buttery, herby flavor, most judges couldn't overcome the bready crust and greasiness of the overall slice.

Luigi's had a notably yeasty flavor to its crust, but don't let that stop you from eating it every time you visit Axelrad.EXPAND
Luigi's had a notably yeasty flavor to its crust, but don't let that stop you from eating it every time you visit Axelrad.
Photo by Erika Kwee

I was saddened to see Luigi's take last place since its proximity to Axelrad makes it one of the most convenient pizza spots for beer lovers. Comments about Luigi's overwhelmingly noted a strong "beer" or "yeasty" flavor to the puffy, bready crust. The sauce erred on the sweet side, and the cheese (a combination of mozzarella and shredded parmesan) was notably salty. All I can say is, one time I was fed a slice of the mushroom pizza while drunk, and it tasted like manna from the gods.

Middle of the road: Frank's, Pizza L'Vino, Pink's

Frank's pizza was polarizing, but a favorite among some judges for excellent cheese.EXPAND
Frank's pizza was polarizing, but a favorite among some judges for excellent cheese.
Photo by Erika Kwee

Frank's was one of the most polarizing New York-style pizzas: While it was aesthetically pleasing, with a vivid grease-shine to its cheese even hours after ordering, I deducted many points for a chemical taste to the bubbled crust and greasy cheese. Several judges gave Frank's nearly full points for an excellent ratio of cheese to sauce to crust. Overall it's okay pizza; Frank's has already found its sweet spot in Houston: It's a hot spot for drunken downtowners.

Pizza L'Vino received low ratings for its crust, sauce and cheese included.EXPAND
Pizza L'Vino received low ratings for its crust, sauce and cheese included.
Photo by Erika Kwee

Pizza L'Vino was marked down for having a cardboard-like, bready crust with an overabundance of flavorless cheese and a generic sauce. Not holding anything against L'Vino for convenient takeout or delivery, but I wouldn't go out of my way to come here.

Pink's is an institution in Houston, but its pizza didn't top our list.EXPAND
Pink's is an institution in Houston, but its pizza didn't top our list.
Photo by Erika Kwee

Pink's was marked down by one taster for a "synthetic" taste to its cheese, while others lauded its herby, balanced cheese flavor with a chewy but not too starchy crust. I doubt anything I say will change your mind about Pink's: If you grew up with it, you likely love it. If you didn't, it's a solid middle-of-the-road slice. 

Notables: Luna Pizzeria, Star Pizza

Luna straddles strict pizza categories thanks to its "San Francisco-style" sourdough crust. Still, it performed well in the Neapolitan category.EXPAND
Luna straddles strict pizza categories thanks to its "San Francisco-style" sourdough crust. Still, it performed well in the Neapolitan category.
Photo by Erika Kwee

Luna Pizzeria had one of the thinner crusts and received the second-highest crust rating. The Luna team describe their pizzas as not strictly New York, but rather as a "San Francisco-style" pizza thanks to its sourdough base. A six-minute bake at 475 degrees puts it out of the Neapolitan category, yet the thinness of the pizza lent it certain Neapolitan-related characteristics. The mild, gooey cheese had an overall addictive quality that complemented the puffy, chewy crust well.

Russo's pizza was nearly universally appealing for its aggressively buttery, herb-y flavor.EXPAND
Russo's pizza was nearly universally appealing for its aggressively buttery, herb-y flavor.
Photo by Erika Kwee

Third place: Russo's Pizzeria (5.9/10)

Home to party pizzas (behemoths composed of four different types of pizza that can feed small countries), Russo's had an aggressively buttery and herb-infused flavor to its crust that's almost reminiscent of...well, Domino's. It was one of the greasier pizzas, with salty highlights in the cheese and a satisfying crunch to the crust. The cheese had a waxier, tougher chew to it — in a good way, if possible. It's a crowd-pleasing pizza for sure.

Score a slice of the thin, addictive creative pizzas at Love Buzz for free with purchase of a drink from 9 p.m. until 2 a.m. daily.EXPAND
Score a slice of the thin, addictive creative pizzas at Love Buzz for free with purchase of a drink from 9 p.m. until 2 a.m. daily.
Photo by Erika Kwee

Second place: Love Buzz (6.2/10)

The recently opened Love Buzz on Westheimer offers a free slice with any drink ordered from 9 p.m. until 2 a.m. daily — this is a great deal to take advantage of considering its whole pizzas are among the priciest we tried ($20+). The cheese pizza stood out for tiny specks of ricotta that accented the thin, pale crust and proportional but tasty layer of cheese, which was particularly salty and buttery tasting. The sauce stood out for its garlicky kick, and the very thin crust makes for dangerously easy eating. 

Grimaldi's stands out for a distinct cracker-like crust and extremely fresh toppings.EXPAND
Grimaldi's stands out for a distinct cracker-like crust and extremely fresh toppings.
Photo by Erika Kwee

First place: Grimaldi's (6.3/10)

If you've heard rumors that Grimaldi's imports water from New York to make its crust, you're partly right — the shop only uses water that undergoes a process that strips a bunch of the harsher minerals from Houston's water to make the chain's dough, rinse produce, etc. This attention to detail shows in its bright, fresh tomato sauce, lightly blistered pockets of high-quality cheese, and a bubbled, well-done crust. I personally marked this pizza down for its lack of cravability (I prefer a doughier crust over a very thin, almost cracker-like one), but there's no denying the high quality of ingredients and execution in this pizza.

 
Results: Neapolitan Style

Least popular: Coltivare, Coppa Osteria, Provisions, Barry's Pizza

Coltivare's not only remains one of my favorite pizzas in Houston, but it's also a relative steal at $11 for a Margherita. I remain convinced its low scores are a fluke.EXPAND
Coltivare's not only remains one of my favorite pizzas in Houston, but it's also a relative steal at $11 for a Margherita. I remain convinced its low scores are a fluke.
Photo by Erika Kwee

Coltivare excels in nearly everything it does, and I don't think its pizza is an exception despite its low scores. The crust has an excellent crunch with yeasty, puffy innards that are reminiscent of focaccia. In contrast to the strictly traditional definition of Neapolitan, however, Coltivare may have suffered given its unusual crust and the generous ratio of fresh tomato sauce to spare bubbles of cheese that didn't lend themselves well to the small samples of pizza consumed during the tasting.

Barry's all-around average "Neapolitan" Margherita pizza seemed better off under the New York-style category.EXPAND
Barry's all-around average "Neapolitan" Margherita pizza seemed better off under the New York-style category.
Photo by Erika Kwee

Barry's Pizza specifically calls out its two styles of pizza on its menu: "Neapolitan (hand-tossed) & Sicilian (deep dish)." After tasting the Neapolitan Margherita, the judges were nearly unanimously of the opinion that Barry's was in the wrong camp — it belongs in the New York-style camp with its barely raised, golden crust and flat layer of cheese. This pizza was marked down by a majority of tasters for its apparent lack of sauce (in fact, it's a garlicky white sauce that was virtually indistinguishable from either the crust or the cheese). Acceptable for a neighborhood pizza joint, but Barry's pizza was not one most tasters would seek out again.

Pizza at Provisions has a lovely airy crust, but execution on its Margherita resulted in a strangely orange-tinted layer of cheese.EXPAND
Pizza at Provisions has a lovely airy crust, but execution on its Margherita resulted in a strangely orange-tinted layer of cheese.
Photo by Erika Kwee

Many tasters had had phenomenal pizza experiences at Provisions, but apparently Margherita is not the way to go. The pizza arrived with a mass of orange-tinted cheese, with basil leaves awkwardly splayed in the center. Certain crusts revived better in the oven than others; the airily crusted Provisions was not one of them. Some judges enjoyed the funky, oily mix of cheeses; others didn't. Our recommendation: Go and enjoy any of the other well-executed pizzas.

For creeping up near the $20 price point, Coppa's Margherita significantly underwhelmed with a flat, chewy crust, acidic sauce, and bare layer of cheese.EXPAND
For creeping up near the $20 price point, Coppa's Margherita significantly underwhelmed with a flat, chewy crust, acidic sauce, and bare layer of cheese.
Photo by Erika Kwee

I've enjoyed a number of pizzas at Coppa Osteria, but this enjoyment did not translate in the flat-crusted, uninspired margherita that we sampled. The crust was nearly unanimously pronounced too thin, chewy and flavorless, with a sauce that leaned acidic, and was lacking in cheese — this was probably one of the pizzas that suffered most from reheating. There was also a distinct lack of char on the crust, so go elsewhere if you crave those delicious burnt edges. 

Middle of the road: Cane Rosso, Pizzeria Solario, Weights + Measures

Cane Rosso turns out a beautifully charred crust so delicate you're better off eating it with a fork and knife.EXPAND
Cane Rosso turns out a beautifully charred crust so delicate you're better off eating it with a fork and knife.
Photo by Erika Kwee

One of my personal favorites, Cane Rosso had an especially flat and delicate pizza crust that would absolutely be best enjoyed fresh out of the oven. Even so, the excellent char on the crust translated through reheating, and the restrained amount of toppings complement, rather than overwhelm, the crust. While the crust wasn't as flavorful as that at Pizaro's, it had more character than many others. A worthy contender.

A speckled, charred crust, generous hits of mozzarella and a just-enough layer of sauce elevated Pizzeria Solario to my personal shortlist of favorites.EXPAND
A speckled, charred crust, generous hits of mozzarella and a just-enough layer of sauce elevated Pizzeria Solario to my personal shortlist of favorites.
Photo by Erika Kwee

Another personal favorite, Pizzeria Solario had a great charred, chewy crust that housed a delightful crowding of little dollops of melty mozzarella with just enough sauce peeking through the crevices of cheese. It was marked down for a sauce that tilted too sweet; some tasters wished for more sauce and cheese. Still, Pizzeria Solario is worth a trip — try its Margherita during the restaurant's weekday lunch special ($10 for a classic pizza and small house salad) and judge for yourself.

Judges wished for more chew to the crust, more sauce and more cheese from the Margherita at Weights + Measures.EXPAND
Judges wished for more chew to the crust, more sauce and more cheese from the Margherita at Weights + Measures.
Photo by Erika Kwee

Weights + Measures

The Slow Dough-crafted pizza at this bar/restaurant/bake shop institution is "aged for 24 hours before rising, then hand stretched and baked in our wood fired oven...with a charred outside crust and chewy center similar in style to the time honored pizzas of Naples, Italy," according to the website. Unfortunately, we found the crust rather dry and excessively crunchy, a too-thin layer of tomato sauce, and not enough of the delicious melty cheese to capture most judges' hearts.

Notables: Dolce Vita, Bollo Woodfired Pizza

Dolce Vita mostly lived up to high expectations with an expertly charred, airy crust.EXPAND
Dolce Vita mostly lived up to high expectations with an expertly charred, airy crust.
Photo by Erika Kwee

Dolce Vita received the highest overall score in the crust category, which seems only appropriate for such an accolade-rich pizza. The crust had an almost powdery element to it, accented by charred edges. Topped by a thin, consistent layer of barely chunky tomato sauce and thin rounds of high-quality cheese, this pizza was dragged down by its low cheese scores (most tasters homed in on a lack of cheese), which may speak to the nature of tasting just a fraction of the pizza rather than the whole. 

Bollo churns out extremely fresh Neapolitan pizzas baked in an 800 degree woodfired oven.EXPAND
Bollo churns out extremely fresh Neapolitan pizzas baked in an 800 degree woodfired oven.
Photo by Erika Kwee

Bollo Woodfired Pizza presented some of the most aesthetically pleasing toppings, which were also vibrant in flavor. The large, milky puddles of mozzarella accented by juicy slices of tomato tasted extremely fresh. The dough was overall solid, if slightly bland, with nice irregular charring. This was a great pizza that seemed to rely on integrity of ingredients rather than leaning on salt and grease.

North Italia's golden, crispy crust and generous cheese had wide appeal.EXPAND
North Italia's golden, crispy crust and generous cheese had wide appeal.
Photo by Erika Kwee

Third place: North Italia (6.1/10)

With a simultaneously crispy and chewy crust, North Italia rose to victory with a widely appealing bright flavor to its cheese and sauce. Overall, it was a greasier pizza, but the ratio of a bright sauce to generous cheese and just enough crust satisfied many of the judges. 

Piola's extensive pizza menu (there are approximately 40 varieties available) features pizzas cooked in a open-fire brick oven.EXPAND
Piola's extensive pizza menu (there are approximately 40 varieties available) features pizzas cooked in a open-fire brick oven.
Photo by Erika Kwee

Second place: Piola (6.4/10)

The flat layer of cheese and pale crust on Piola's Margherita set it apart from a typical Neapolitan-style pizza (though the shop describes it as such). Yet it still rose to the top thanks to a salty punch to its cheese and a powdery, fluffy, airy crust that managed to avoid breadiness. Although most judges were not blown away by this pizza, scoring proved it to be a solid crowd-pleaser.

Pizaro's exemplifies everything a Neapolitan pizza should be.EXPAND
Pizaro's exemplifies everything a Neapolitan pizza should be.
Photo by Erika Kwee

First place: Pizaro's (6.6/10)

With the highest overall ratings, Pizaro’s exemplifies the ideal Neapolitan pizza. The crust is beautifully bubbled and charred with a chewy, moist, sour interior. The balance between generous, gooey mozzarella dollops, torn fresh basil and fresh, slightly chunky sauce was harmonious enough to please even the pickiest of judges.

Challenges

It goes without saying that reheated pizza is a creature different from freshly baked pizza. However, reheating was a crucial sacrifice that had to be made in order to conduct a blind tasting of such a wide variety of pizzas. 

Virtually all the judges were surprised by the end results since a lot of colloquial crowd favorites hadn't been recognized in the top three. This can be attributed to several factors. First, some pizzas reheated more favorably than others. Second, judging was based on a sample of each pizza (including both crust and non-crust) rather than a whole slice. Third, the subjective nature of a pizza tasting led to wide variances in scoring.

Last, the lower ratings as a whole can be attributed to the fact that judging pizzas side-by-side made us much harsher critics than any rational person would be when eating a slice of pizza.

Conclusion

My personal recommendation? For solid Neapolitan, you can't go wrong with Pizaro's, Dolce Vita, Pizzeria Solario or Bollo Woodfired Pizza. I also really liked Cane Rosso, though I understand its thin, floppy crust style isn't for everyone, and Coltivare is always a winner even if it doesn't fit in the dictionary definition of Neapolitan.

For quality New York pizza, Love Buzz and Luna had my personal favorite execution, although I still have a soft spot for cheap, greasy pizza fixes at Luigi's. And let's all make a pact to go visit Pi Pizza once the crowds die down because I think we've all heard the rumors of how unreasonably delicious its pizza is.

Use Current Location

Related Locations

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Piola

3201 Louisiana St.
Houston, TX 77006

713-524-8222

www.piola.it

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Pizaro's Pizza Napoletana
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Bollo Woodfired Pizza

2202 A West Alabama
Houston, TX 77098

713-677-0391

bollohouston.com

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Dolce Vita Pizzeria & Enoteca

500 Westheimer Rd.
Houston, TX 77006-2932

713-520-8222

www.dolcevitahouston.com

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Luigi's Pizzeria
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Romano's Pizza
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Grimaldi's Coal Brick Oven Pizzeria

16535 SW Freeway .
Sugar Land, TX 77479

281-265-2280

www.grimaldispizzeria.com

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North Italia

1700 Post Oak Blvd.
Houston, TX 77056

281--605--4030

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Coppa Osteria

5210 Morningside Dr.
Houston, TX 77005

713-522-3535

www.coppaosteriahouston.com

miles
Pizzeria Solario

3333 Weslayan
Houston, TX 77027

713-892-8100

pizzeriasolario.com

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Weights + Measures

2808 Caroline St
Houston, Texas 77004

713-654-1970

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Coltivare Pizza & Garden

3320 White Oak Dr.
Houston, TX 77007

713-637-4095

www.coltivarehouston.com

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Provisions
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Frank's Pizza
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Pink's Pizza

710 W. Gray St.
Houston, TX 77019

713-521-7465

www.pinkspizza.com

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Pizza L'Vino

544 Waugh Dr.
Houston, TX 77019

713-526-1000

www.pizzalvino.com


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